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Rest eternal (yawn!)

2012 November 9
by Gordon Reid

Tomorrow, our Mass will be for the departed who have given their lives in war. And we shall pray: “Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord”. I remember once saying “Requiem eternam dona eis, Domine” and thinking “Good God, what a boring prospect”.

Heaven would be utterly boring if by “rest eternal” we mean doing nothing for all eternity. The verse from one of our hymns which pictures Heaven as a place where we shall “gaze and gaze on Thee” fills me with horror! In case you don’t know it, here is the whole ghastly verse:

“Father of Jesus, love’s reward, What rapture will it be, Prostrate before thy throne to lie, And gaze and gaze on thee”. Apart from the fact that it is hard to lie prostrate and gaze on anything but the floor, what a dreadful prospect for our future in heaven.

But eternal rest can be nothing like that. We love rest in this life, but we do not often mean lying prostrate before the throne! We take rest from our work in wonderful and creative ways. We visit other places; we visit friends; we go for a drink with them, or to dinner; we read books and watch movies; we play or watch games; we do a thousand different things that we could not do while we had to work. And that is the kind of “rest” we will have in eternity.

There is a Country & Western song called “Live like you were dying” where a man is diagnosed with terminal cancer (in the usual jolly way of C & W songs!) and says, “Well what’d I do?” And his answer is “I went sky diving; I went Rocky Mountain climbing; I went two-point-seven seconds on a bull ¬†named Fu Manchu; and I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter, and I gave forgiveness I’ve been denying”. Now nobody will be surprised that I have no wish to try the first three of these “rest activities”! But I would like to love deeper, speak sweeter and give the forgiveness I’ve ¬†been denying – and if that’s included in the “rest” of heaven, I can’t wait to get there.

But wait a minute, I don’t have to wait – I can do all three of these now. “Rest” in the heavenly sense is the same as recreation or re-creation. And that is exactly what our Lord Jesus Christ has done in his Resurrection, re-created us. And that means starting right now, not in a million year’s time.

Let’s “live like we were dying” because we are. And that is good news, Gospel news. Give that kind of ‘rest’ a chance now, and we will eventually find it is heavenly. That’s the kind of rest we will pray on Sunday and in every Requiem Mass for all the Departed.


9 Responses leave one →
  1. Ethan Jewett permalink
    November 9, 2012

    What a marvelous reflection, Father. I agree that to lie prostrate for all eternity sounds like the summit of boredom and discomfort. When I get to heaven, be sure to have an ice cold martini waiting for me along with all my friends. And a box of double-stuffed Oreos wouldn’t go amiss either!

  2. Clint permalink
    November 9, 2012

    I have a feeling that all the pleas for eternal rest during a requiem were as much directed to the departed as to God. In an earlier time, there was a very real fear of ghosts and the undead, when a lightswitch wasn’t an arm’s length away and there was no sound-masking whirr of a fan to lull us to sleep. Rest eternal, indeed, as in please God and Aunt so and so, now that you’re dead, mercifully stay that way!

  3. Jeff Ezell permalink
    November 9, 2012

    In my own devotions I find it more consonant with my conceptions of continuing life and the Church Expectant to pray that God grant to the departed “light and refreshment”, rather than “rest eternal”. By the same token, the prayerbook phrase, “continual growth in thy love and service” seems to me to much better capture what we would desire than words that would seem to imply unending quiescence.

  4. Stephen permalink
    November 10, 2012

    as someone whom even the nuns in school referred to as a “worry wort”. I have always interpreted Mother Church’s pleas for eternal rest to refer to the end of all of those temporal matters which caused us anxiety in this mortal life. That’s still not such a bad concept! Moreover, if I’d lived as a serf on medieval estate, or as a slave on a 19th century Plantation in the American South, I imagine the concepts of “eternal rest” and “sweet deliverance” would give me great comfort.

  5. Jeff Ezell permalink
    November 11, 2012

    I can certainly understand where the concept came from, as well as how it might be relevant to any of us at various points in time. Yet, it doesn’t seem to me to capture an adequate concept – insofar as we are able to entertain any such concept – of life and consciousness continuing past this mortal life. For one thing, it seems to skip over a dynamic concept of theosis, which we may believe would be the ultimate end of the ongoing process that we variously call Purgatory or – more felicitously – the Church Expectant (even if the traditional idea is that we pray and offer Mass for “the souls in Purgatory”). Moreover, the idea of “eternal rest” seems to be a bit of a disconnect with our ideas of the saints who have attained to the Church Triumphant interceding on our behalf. We conceive Our Lady as “busy” indeed in her role as Help of All Christians, and likewise the other saints to whom we pray for their intercession. Theirs is conceived as constant activity without fatigue.

    • Paul Emmons permalink
      December 8, 2012

      I don’t know where the legend or pious opinion came from that we will each be met on the way and ushered into heaven by someone who meant a great deal to us in this life. The gentleman who I look forard to playing that role for me will be very busy around now, doing the same for numerous other old boys whom he had aleardy introduced to echoes of heaven on earth.

      • December 11, 2012

        In C.S. Lewis’s “The Great Divorce”, he was met at the threshold of Heaven by George MacDonald, the author whom he believed was responsible for his being a Christian in the first place.

  6. Davis permalink
    November 11, 2012

    Quite a good reflexion, Father! Thank you!

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